BEIJING China will hold a new round of talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama next month and hopes for a "positive response" from the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, state media said Sunday.
Officials from the central government will attend the meetings, which will take place in early July, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It did not give a specific date or venue for the talks.
"Our door is always open for dialogue with the Dalai Lama. (We) hope that the Dalai Lama would treasure this opportunity and give a positive response to the requirements of the central authorities," an unnamed government official was quoted as saying by Xinhua in a two-sentence statement.
Thupten Samphal, a spokesman for the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, confirmed that the next round of talks will be held "soon." He did not have any other details but said that government-in-exile officials will meet Monday to discuss logistics.
China has been accused of using heavy-handed tactics in quelling anti-government riots and protests that began in March in Tibet and Tibetan communities in western China. Some experts believe Beijing is agreeing to a fresh round of discussions to ease international pressure and criticism ahead of the Olympic Games that begin Aug. 8 in China .
"There is some concern for China to maintain a good profile internationally before the Olympics so that must be part of the issue," said Robbie Barnett, an expert in modern Tibet at Columbia University.
"It's also very clear inside Tibet that many Tibetans put a great weight on news of these talks and there's some evidence that people inside Tibet will be generally reluctant to stage protests when there is still hope in this process," he said.
China has governed Tibet since communist troops marched into the Himalayan region in the 1950s. The Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid a failed uprising in 1959, has said he wants some form of autonomy that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion. But Beijing has labeled him a "splittist" intent on seizing independence, and it continues to vilify him.
The Dalai Lama's envoys have attended five rounds of talks with China since 2002. Specific details of those discussions have not been released, but they are believed to have focused on the Dalai Lama's demands for more autonomy.
The last round, prompted by the March protests, was held May 4 in the southern city of Shenzhen. The closed-door talks, the first since 2006, ended with a solid offer from Beijing for future discussions but yielded scant other concrete results.
Xinhua said then that China hoped the Dalai Lama and his followers would "take credible moves to stop activities aimed at splitting China, stop plotting and inciting violence and stop disrupting and sabotaging the Beijing Olympic Games."
A key question, Barnett said, is why Beijing has not made any goodwill gestures or taken any confidence-building measures to support the talks in past years.
"That could gain them real political opportunity if they make some goodwill gestures," he said. "The main one is very simple: Stop making attacks on the Dalai Lama."
However, Barnett said it's a small step in the right direction that Beijing did not list any new demands in Sunday's announcement and that it used the Dalai Lama's full title. Experts have said that China's usual reference to the spiritual leader as "Dalai" was a veiled insult because it did not acknowledge his honorific title of lama."We are not seeing any major change but in these tiny details, we can see they are trying to improve their presentation," he said.
Associated Press Writer Ashwini Bhatia in Dharmsala, India contributed to the report.